Braid dev on Steam vs. consoles, and how platform bureaucracy "makes all games worse"
Braid creator Jonathan Blow has posted an open letter on the ills of the bureaucratic requirements that major console companies demand of every game on their platform. He compares the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 to Steam and Apple, which let developers update their games quickly and freely with no need for lengthy official certification procedures, and suggests that future platforms will have to take a similar approach to be successful.
He writes: "The edge that both Apple and Valve have going into the future is that they both genuinely care about the end-user experience and want to make it as good as possible. (Their end-user experience is already way better than any of the consoles and they are always working to improve it). Which coincidentally seems to be the place that these consoles are handicapped due to their corporate culture. Can anyone look at the current 360 or PS3 dashboards and legitimately say that those are products of an entity that deeply cares about user experience?"
To release a patch on a console, developers have to submit the update to a certification procedure in which the patch is cleared for release by the platform holder. DICE have previously told us that this is one of the reasons we have to wait so long for Battlefield patches. Blow mentions that certification procedures are designed to deliver more reliable updates, but points out that there's less need for quality control than platform holders assume. "There is no public outcry for more testing and robustness of iOS software," he writes.
Blow uses the "DO NOT TURN OFF YOUR CONSOLE" save warning that must be included at the start of every Xbox game as an example of the inefficiency these requirements generate. "If consoles cared about this kind of thing, it would be built into their basic save-file API, so that it would always work perfectly and no developers would ever have to think about it," he says.
"If they did this, there would be fewer things to certify, certification would cost a little less and take a bit less time. Let’s say you save 3 days of development and testing per game (this is conservative; the real amount can be substantially higher when you factor in the discussions and coordination about how the save notice should look, etc). Now add up how many games have been released just on the Xbox 360, multiply that number by 3 days, and what you get is probably OVER A DECADE OF DEVELOPER TIME that was wasted. Just on this one little requirement. For something that should just be built into the system by one person in a couple of weeks."
Ultimately, platforms will have to become more open to support the rising popularity of free to play and digital games. Blow doesn't reckon the next console generation will be able to stack up against Steam. "Whatever they do is very likely not to be enough," he says. "Their competitors are not stopping either. (Steam, which was already pretty painless in terms of updating games, recently revamped their system; the new thing is way better than the old thing, which was already way better than what the consoles do.)"
Read the whole argument over on The Witness, a site for Jonathan Blow upcoming first-person exploration/puzzle game set on a mysterious island.